The Octavia Hill Awards are organised by the National Trust, the Wild Network and BBC Countryfile Magazine and celebrate people who work to protect and enhance green spaces for wildlife and local communities.
This year, we have been looking for heroes who have helped children and young adults connect with the outdoors and wildlife – passing on their own experience, enthusiasm and love of nature. Sometimes, to reconnect with nature, we need help or inspiration from mentors, teachers and others. That’s why we want to celebrate the people who have made a real difference to the youngsters around them – helping to inspire a life-long love of the outdoors and wildlife.
Back in May we asked for your nominations in three categories: volunteer wild hero, professional wild hero and wild organisation. We received a record of nearly 300 nominations and our expert panel whittled the nominations down to a shortlist of five in each category. Voting was then opened to the public until 31st August.
Here are the winners of each category. Each be presented with a special award and have their work featured in BBC Countryfile Magazine and the Wild Network.
VOLUNTEER WILD HERO: JULIE MERRETT, Avalon Marshes
Julie began volunteering in 2007 with the RSPB’s ‘Bird Friendly Schools’ project and maintained an active involvement with her allocated schools beyond the end of the 2 year project period. She also began volunteering with Natural England in 2009. Julie now runs and arranges events for the Avalon Marshes Young Wardens Group and the Avalon Marshes Family Group. She organises the Shapwick Heath National Nature Reserve Butterfly transect teams, designs & produces very original environmental games for use by schools and co-ordinates and designs the quarterly Shapwick Heath Newsletter. She is an active member of the Avalon Marshes Education Liaison Group, and has worked hard to represent the interests of Natural England through meetings and joint events. Julie has led on several successful ‘small grant’ applications for habitat improvements and is also involved in developing opportunities for secondary schools to learn on the local nature reserves.
PROFESSIONAL WILD HERO: CHRIS GREGORY, Out2Play
Chris tirelessly sets up schemes that encourage children to interact with the outdoors through play. He has devised the Isle of Man’s play policy, helping to change parents’ perceptions of outdoor activity and making them feel more at ease with their children tree climbing and playing in rivers. He also negotiated with the Health and Safety Inspectorate for a more common sense approach to managing risk in play provision. Chris has introduced ‘Play bins’ at over a quarter of the Isle of Man’s primary schools, allowing children to experience self directed outdoor play using nothing more than ‘junk’ items. He also set up a national conference and has brought decision makers together to organise Isle of Play 2016. Above all, he promotes children’s well-being and instills positive relationships with the outdoors that they will carry through into adulthood.
The Friends, a team of two members of staff, receive support from a dedicated board of trustees and 3,000 volunteers in order to manage and conserve the Tower Hamlets Cemetery Park. Thanks to the conservation efforts of The Friends, the Park is home to a bustling population of rare and endangered plants and wildlife. Most significantly, The Friends have helped to establish the Cemetery Park as a safe and wonderful place of education for the 7,500 schoolchildren who visit it each year. They also offer monthly free training on topics concerning the management of habitats for biodiversity, giving anybody a chance to become a volunteer. The Friends have been praised by a nominator for being able to “ensure that the generation who grow up to become the next policy and decision makers see the natural world as something of importance and value.’’
Click here to see the VOLUNTEER WILD HERO category shortlist
Click here to see the PROFESSIONAL WILD HERO category shortlist
Click here to see the WILD ORGANISATION category shortlist